Social Class

When I started writing this blog, I didn’t realize how hard and how easy it would be.  For example, I didn’t know it would be so time consuming.  Taking pictures, writing my post, converting the photos for web applications, and uploading the story can sometimes take 3 to 4 hours.  I’m not complaining.  I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like it.

But part of blogging is very easy for me.  It’s amazing how easy stories come to me.  For example, last night I realized it was time to write another post.  I sat down with my computer and started reviewing a list of ideas I had once written.  I couldn’t decide on anything.  This morning, however, a new idea came to me – social class.

Last evening, I was sitting on my balcony, as I do many times throughout the day.  The sun had gone down and the last glimpses of the day’s light were fading on the horizon.  I looked down to the street, and in an old beat-up car, was a man stretched across the stick shift, trying to get some sleep in the front seats.  It didn’t take me long to realize that he must have been visiting someone in the hospital two doors down, and likely couldn’t afford a hotel room.

I am told that most health insurance plans only cover government hospitals.  People often prefer to go to a better, private hospital and therefore, must pay the bill themselves.  In smaller towns, the hospitals are not very good.  I have seen many people, just like this man, who have obviously driven many hours to take their loved ones to our neighboring hospital.  I know this because I see them sleeping in their cars.

Turkey, like Americans, has several levels of social classes.  There are the very poor – beggars who walk the streets, cleaning car windows, or selling packs of tissues or pens.  There are those who just make enough, or almost enough, to live in a small apartment.  There are Turks who make a decent living, they don’t really want for anything, but they don’t drive SUVs or have summer homes.  There are those who make an even better living, who have small summer homes and maybe a nice Volkswagen.  And of course, there are the wealthy ones.  (Yesterday I read a blog about a man who asked his American nanny whether he should buy a plane or a helicopter!  She responded that considering he recently purchased a New York penthouse, the plane seemed more practical!)

This morning, as I went to my balcony with my morning cup of Joe, I noticed the man still in the car.  A few minutes later, I saw a woman just waking up in the back seat.  I watched them, off and on,  for about 30 minutes.   No one left the car.  I wondered, how it is possible that a real Turk could be awake for at least 30 minutes and not leave the car for a glass of tea?  Perhaps it was too early?  Then I remembered my local pastane opens at 7 a.m.  They serve tea and pastries.  Surely, there are several places open early in the morning in all neighborhoods.  The thought occurred to me that perhaps, they couldn’t afford breakfast or that buying a glass of tea, less than $1, was a luxury for them.

My heart started yearning to help these people in some way.  But my husband was still sleeping and I had no way of knowing the proper thing to do.  I put on a pot of water to boil as if it would help me think more clearly.  (Turkish tea takes some time to make.  It is a double boiler system.  A blend of teas goes in the top pot.  Water goes in the bottom pot.  When the water boils, you add some to the top pot, and add more water to the bottom.  Wait about 30 minutes or so and then pour both water and tea into a glass.)

Before the water had boiled, I decided I would serve the couple breakfast.  I didn’t have much in the house, but that was no matter.  I am an expert in creating meals from nothing.  I perused the refrigerator.  We had enough for a traditional, albeit small, Turkish kahvalti, breakfast.  I sliced some bread we purchased last night.  Gathered 3 kinds of olives, butter, and sliced 2 varieties of cheese.  I piled them onto a brightly colored cafeteria-style tray.  (Finally!  A real use for those silly trays I purchased from Ikea!)  I gathered silverware, napkins, and sugar.  Then I poured 2 cups of tea, perhaps a bit sooner than required for good tea.  I covered the tray with a nice tea towel and made my way down the steps and to the car.

I was worried about taking breakfast to strangers.  I didn’t know whether they would be insulted.  Or perhaps they would not open the window, thinking I was a beggar.  But I did it anyway.  The man opened the window right away.  He was a young man.  The woman poked her head forward to see what was going on.  It was harder to determine her age, her head covered with a bright floral scarf.  But her face seemed as though she had seen hard times. 

I used my minimal knowledge of broken Turkish to communicate.  “Günaydin.  Pardon, biraz Türkçe.  Evim (pointing to my house.)  Dün, bugün, araba.  Hastane?  (He answered, evet.)  As kahvalti,  çay?  Lütfen?!”  I uncovered the tray and offered it to him.

Translation:  “Good morning.  Pardon me, a little Turkish.  My house.  Yesterday, today, car.  Hospital?  He answered ‘yes’.  Little breakfast, tea?  Please?”

To my surprise, he did not argue.  He accepted the tray and thanked me.  As I made my way back to the house, I had such a good warm feeling inside.  And I thought, I don’t care whether I get that stupid tray back, my coffee cups (which are part of a Morton Salt collector set I dragged from America, the silverware, or the towel.  I was able to help, if only biraz.

About 30 minutes later, I heard car doors slamming in the street.  I looked down from the window, and there was the woman, trying to figure out how to return my things.  She spotted me, and alerted her husband pointing up to my window.  We met in the hallway, and he thanked me again.  I wished him an “Afiyet olsun“, and “Kolay gelsin” (“Enjoy the meal” – which is used even after a meal, and “May it come easy.” )  He thanked me again.  At this point, I realized neither of them had smiled, not even a little bit.  They were grateful for the breakfast, but obviously, more serious matters lay ahead of them.  They didn’t know that they had done more for me than I did for them.  I felt warm and fuzzy about serving them a small meal, but they were sad and worried.  I will keep them in my thoughts and prayers today.

I know a true good samaritan does not brag about what their good deeds.  It is the same in Islam.  Helping the poor is done quietly here.  The rewards are great and come only from God.  But I couldn’t help but share this story with you.  I was so proud of my little self that I could communicate enough without insulting this family.  I hope you read this story in the spirit that it was meant.

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5 thoughts on “Social Class

  1. Terry – your blog has become a “must read.” Thank you so much for sharing. So I do have a question for you. You are looking out your window on Rodman Street, and see the same scene you saw from your window in Ankara. What do you do?

  2. A big thanks to all of my readers!

    Mark, that’s a tough question. The biggest difference is that the hospital on our street is known to be very good and therefore, people travel far and wide to get here. It’s just not the same in Philly. That being said, I once brought home (to Rodman) 4 strangers from the airport when we were stranded trying to get to Minnesota (AOL case.) Two were Germans, visiting the U.S. for the first time. The other two were Minnesotans (sp?) who had spent the summer travelling Europe. One of the Germans was dating a guy from Minnesota. He kept calling to check on her. He finally insisted on talking to me because he just couldn’t believe that a Philadelphian had good intentions. We had a blast spending the night together. I bought cheesesteaks. The Germans had chocolates. Ant the Minnesotans had liquor from various countries! How I miss those Rodman St. days . . .

  3. Hi,
    I love what you wrote 🙂
    I have just found your blog while searching for infos about Ankara. I am planning to visit my boyfriend who lives in Cankaya, on summer. Your blog is veeeeery informative, and please, keep writing!

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